Type the search term 'worst car in the world' into a search engine and the Yugo will appear in just about every website which is displayed. It has become a butt of jokes all over the world. To call something a 'Yugo' is to suggest that is is at least second best, but more likely woeful. A whole litany of jokes become popular such as:
Despite this there was a time when the Yugo GV (that was short for Great Value!) sold in the United States like hot cakes. There were reports of huge queues outside dealerships, many people ordered one sight unseen, and it became the fastest selling imported car in it's first year. So what went wrong?
When serial entrepreneur Michael Bricklin first imported the car into America via a new company he controlled, the aptly name 'Yugo America', in 1985, the engine was modelled on one designed by Fiat almost 20 years earlier so it was already woefully out of date. The 1116 cc four-cylinder engine produced just 55 brake horsepower with peak revs at 6000 rpm; with a four speed manual gearbox this was enough to propel the car up to 86 mph; but this was on a straight and level road with just a driver on board. Tackling a hill, particularly if it had its full complement of three passengers, was a different matter altogether.
Build quality was generally poor (dreadful is a better description), and the interior was spartan to say the least. Fuel consumption was an estimated 26 mpg, which for such a small car was not great. Cornering was pretty awful with plenty of body roll and the brakes were adequate but no more. The outdated engine, even after the improvements that the importers insisted on, only marginally passed emission tests; and it was loud, both from inside and outside the car.
In crash tests it was found that the car offered little protection to occupants. It managed - just - to pass the 30mph official crash test (necessary if it was to be sold in the USA) but in a later 35mph test - which was not mandatory for passing the 'New Car Assessment Program' - it failed dismally.
It was said that crash test dummies refused to take part in these tests in Yugos. After all they were dummies, not idiots (sorry, I couldn't resist that)!
To be imported into the United States, from the Zastava factory in Yugoslavia where it was built, the car had to satisfy a whole raft of safety and environmental regulations. A team from Yugo America insisted on literally hundreds of design and manufacturing changes to the car in order to bring it up to the required standard. It did, eventually, meet all the required specifications. Fair enough it only just passed most of them but they were pretty rigourous so it cannot have necessarily been such a bad car. It was true that it performed badly in crash tests when pitted against larger cars on the roads of America but then it was a small sub compact not a huge gas guzzler which had more metal around it to protect the occupants.
Performance was not terrific but it was advertised as a city car and not one for driving long-distance. It is noticeable that a survey of motorists who had owned a Yugo claimed that more than half of them would definitely buy another one or at least seriously consider it.
Apart from the dated engine there were disc brakes all round, front wheel drive, rack and pinion steering, independent rear suspension. All of these were based on Fiat designs (although they were made in Yugoslavia and not Italy) which were well tested. Plus, at the time, Jugoslavia was looked upon as a 'good guy' by America; OK it was a communist state but it had shrugged off interference from the Big Bogeyman countries, Russia and China, and many in the American government were happy to foster better ties with the country. What could go wrong?
Most of all however it was cheap, selling (officially) at under US$4000, which made it the lowest priced car available in the USA. It was advertised as a basic functional car with no aspirations to be a powerful luxury machine and that is what it was; an economical means of transport with no frills. However we usually only get what we pay for, and this very cheapness soon changed from an asset to a liability.
Initially, the Yugo GV was a huge success, but that was before many people had actually driven one. Disillusionment soon set in. How much of it was down to Michael Bricklin?
Copyright © Ian Palmer 2021 All Rights reservedMeet The Yugo | Enter Michael Bricklin | The Bricklin SV1 Fiasco | Bricklin Faces Bankrupcy Again | The First Yugo In America | How Bricklin Promised Zastava The Moon | Lipstick Is Put On The Yugo Pig | America Decides The Yugo Is Awful | The Proton Saga | The End Of The Yugo